When my younger sister decided to spend her spring semester in Barcelona, my mom and I immediately planned a visit. The three of us spent the last week traveling through Catalonia expanding our palettes.
If I could begin every day with a trip to La Boquería food market on La Rambla in Barcelona, I would. From the moment I first walked into the market, my senses were under attack. I was first greeted with the sweet smells of the flower stands on the outskirts of the market. Just past the flower bouquets were mountains of brightly colored fresh fruit and vegetables. Some of the fruit was cut and packaged on the spot and ready to eat while some were squeezed into fresh juices. The large mango slices were especially delicious.
But as I weaved through the bustling market and worked my way to its center, I passed some of the more gristly display cases. The butcher stands had pig heads prominently displayed in the front, with hanging carcasses in the open air behind them. The dead animals banged against the heads and backs of the butchers as they chopped meat on wooden blocks with their bare hands that had just accepted money. The procedure at the seafood stands was similar, with shellfish still squirming in buckets before my eyes.
We took a seat at Bar Boquería, one of the little restaurants situated among the meats and fish. We began with a Mozzarella and tomato salad and patatas bravas, a classic dish of lightly fried potatoes with a mayonnaise-based dipping sauce. Eventually, however, we gained some courage and ordered a mixed seafood dish. As Mark Bittman would argue, breakfast food is a cultural construction—Why not start the day with a nice plate of fish with your coffee?
The seafood could not have been fresher. I know this because I was sitting right in front of the display case. The sardines, barely dead, stared up at me. When the chef reached in to grab some clams and mussels, they all started to move around his hand, disturbed by the sudden movement.
The plate came with one large sardine, mussels, clams, razor clams, squid, and cuddle fish. In my opinion, the mixed plate deserves a mixed review. I did not care for the mussels at all as they had a very pungent taste. The clams also had a bitter flavor and a sandy texture. The razor clam had an extremely unusual shape and was relatively bland, as most large shellfish are. On the other hand, the sardine, squid, and cuddle fish were very good. It was impossible to eat without getting a few bones in each bite, but they were so soft that they were barely noticeable; and as my mom said, they are a perfectly good source of calcium. Also from a nutritional standpoint, one might want to skip the fish skin that the Europeans seem to enjoy. The grilled squid was very good, but seemed chewy in comparison to the similar but more tender and juicy cuddle fish. The mixed seafood dish was a great thing to order because we really got to try a little of everything.
La Boquería market is a must-see for anyone interested in culinary culture. Just be prepared for the grunge—or simply don’t walk past the fruit.
La Boquería can be found off La Rambla in Barcelona.